I visited Ryan’s airy studio near Atlantic Station at the end of July. His spends all day painting, arriving around nine in the morning and leaving at five-ish. After spending over eight years as an assistant to Jeff Koons, I’m not surprised at his discipline. Even more impressive, the day I made the appointment to visit was his birthday.
We chatted while I took photos of his studio and work, and he sent me his own photos to round out the interview. I coveted a few of his prized books – one on Cy Twombly and a present from his wife, Vitamin P2, a book of new contemporary painting published by Phaidon.Â Coleman grew up with creative parents; his dad Steve Coleman worked for Disney in LA and his mother has worked in interior design.
In his statement Coleman notes that a diverse set of elements informs his work; cartoons, historical references to art, graffiti â€“ and manyÂ of these are evident in the postcards and clippings tacked to a wall in the studio.
After eight years in Brooklyn, Coleman moved back with his wife to Atlanta in 2011 and has been showing at various galleries around the city. He shows at Pryor Fine Art and was recently in a group exhibit at Poem88.
The following interview is compiled from questions written before the visit, my notes during our meeting and from Ryan’s thoughtful written responses.
VW What led you to become a painter?
RC Â Iâ€™ve always been creative as long as I can remember, and it was encouraged fromÂ both sides of my family.Â My mom was an interior designer, and my dad a cartoonistÂ (both are semi-retired).Â Though separated when I was young, I was exposed andÂ greatly influenced by both of their creativity.Â My mom always encouraged beingÂ creative because she was so much herself, finding unique ways to decorate our home,Â and working on projects constantly.
My dad inked a comic strip when I was young,Â and I would watch him work, and was fascinated by the sharp, crisp line he wouldÂ make with a brush and ink.
He was also extremely passionate about animation andÂ had tons of animation books lying around. So art was always there, but it wasnâ€™tÂ really until high school where I knew I wanted to be a painter from then on out.
VW Â Can you describe how NY or Atlanta has influenced yourÂ work? Talk a little about working in Brooklyn and your time as anÂ assistant to Jeff Koons. Your work is so different in that youâ€™re anÂ actual painter and not doing conceptual work.
RC Â I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida where I attended Douglas Anderson School of theÂ Arts, a magnet school. In 1996 I was accepted into the Atlanta College of Art, andÂ coming to Atlanta from Jacksonville was extremely exciting for me at the time. ThereÂ was a great arts scene going on. Atlanta for me was really a jumping point, and anÂ introduction to the greater art world. My junior year at ACA, I was accepted into aÂ studio program called the New York Residency Program, and went to live in NYC forÂ a semester in 1999.
This changed and matured me in so many ways, and I knewÂ immediately that I needed/wanted to move to New York City. You hear it all theÂ time, but there really is nowhere else in the world like it, especially for art. TheÂ museums, the galleries, the city itself, is massive and bursting with energy. It affectsÂ you big time. I came back to Atlanta, finished up my BFA, freelanced briefly doingÂ animation for Cartoon Network and had my mind set on moving to New York.
Untitled (Surprised by Joy),Â oil on paper, 22×30″, 2012
The opportunity came shortly after my good friend, Todd Wahnish,Â asked if I wanted to move with him, and I excitedly took it (this was 2003). For theÂ next 8 1/2 years, I immersed myself in the city; going to shows, making art, andÂ working full time as an assistant to Jeff Koons. This was one of those life changingÂ experiences â€“ working with a wonderful and talented group of people, andÂ being part of something so large and exciting. Seeing and experiencing how an artistÂ on that scale operates was amazing. It entailed a lot of problem solving and working as aÂ collective to execute Jeffâ€™s vision.
Youâ€™re mostly focusing on the production of theÂ material and paying extreme attention to detail, with 100 or so other people withÂ similar interests. The drawback of working full-time anywhere is the amount of timeÂ you sacrifice on your own work, and between that and going out, it leaves a smallÂ window of time to produce your own work.
Untitled, (detail) oil on paper, 22×30″, 2012
In early 2011, my wife and I decided toÂ move back to Atlanta to take a bit of a break from the city and focus on our ownÂ thing. Fortunately, Iâ€™ve been able to devote most of my schedule to my own work,Â and Iâ€™m excited to participate in the art scene here. That was a very long answer to aÂ short questionâ€¦ Both have had positive influences on me and my art, inÂ different ways.
Â on the rightÂ –Â Untitled (Jungle), oil on canvas 40×48″, 2012.
VW Describe your daily painting/working routine and what inspires yourÂ paintings? Do you make sketches or draw on a regular basis?
RC Â To sum up the things that inspire me in painting are: art history, evoking a mood orÂ emotion in the work, and elements of cartoons and graffiti art. Iâ€™m equally fascinatedÂ with the illusion of depth and narrative youâ€™ll find in pre-Modernist painting, theÂ immediacy and impact you find in Abstract Expressionism, and the color and pop ofÂ animation and street art. My overall mission as a painter has been to portray a little ofÂ each in my work. Iâ€™m also inspired by the sublime and optimism. I do make sketchesÂ and draw on a regular basis.
Detail from Untitled, oil on canvas 40×48″, 2012.
VW Â I see a little Pat Steir in some of the larger pieces and a sort ofÂ Japanese calligraphy in the smaller works on paper. The dynamic andÂ motion in the work almost reminds me of cell animation, an abstractionÂ of movement. Can you talk about the context of your work and anyÂ ideologies you may have as an artist?
RC Â I think the context is trying to incorporate an acknowledgement of where painting hasÂ been, where it has come from, and where it is now. I tend to lean toward abstractionÂ and obscuring the subject matter or imagery into something which contains a shroudÂ of mystery. Iâ€™m drawn to work that has a bit of this mystery in it, and one artist inÂ particular who comes to mind in regard to this is J.M.W. Turner. I saw an exhibitionÂ of his a few years ago at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and was deeplyÂ moved by his paintings. I was also struck by the size and commanding presence theyÂ emit, and that they teeter between abstraction and representation.
Untitled (Heaven & Earth), oil on canvas, 40×48″, 2012
VWÂ Which artists have had the most influence on your work? And are thereÂ current painters whose work excites you?
RC Â Very much soâ€¦ Iâ€™ll try and keep this short (the list is long):Â Leonardo da Vinci,Â Peter Paul Reubens,Â Corot,Â Monet,Â Picasso,Â John Singer Sargent,Â Cy Twombly, RobertÂ Rauschenberg, Jean-MichelÂ Basquiat,Â James Turrell,Â Vernon Grant,Â Cecily Brown,Â Inka Essenhigh,Â Takashi Murakami,Â Os Gemeos,Â Kristine Moran.
VW Â Some artists suggest that the studio is too private for them, that theyÂ require a social forum for their work. Does networking with otherÂ artists and developing community have much bearing on your life as anÂ artist and if so, how does it inform your work and process?
RC Â I enjoy both the privacy of working in my own studio, and networking and socializingÂ with other artists. For me it goes hand in hand.
Phoenix, oil on paper 22×30″, 2012.
VW Â I’m always curious about how painters are utilizing social networking.Â I know painters who have been successful marketing their work online,Â even while they’re represented by a gallery. Have you explored someÂ of these or other alternative ways to either exhibit or sell your work?
RC Â Yes. Itâ€™s amazing how these days you can share your work with someone half wayÂ around the world in real time. Iâ€™ve done commissions and sold work bothÂ domestically and internationally â€“ all through online communication. Itâ€™s a real thrillÂ to get an e-mail from someone that youâ€™ve never met whoâ€™s interested or moved byÂ your work.
VW Â This next question may dovetail with the previous one; are you able toÂ make a living solely from your painting, or do you work a ‘day’ job?
RC Â I have several avenues I utilize to make a living with my work, with some being moreÂ glamorous than others. I feel extremely fortunate though, to be able to work in my studio full-time. Of course, the best is when a work sells for what it is, itâ€™s really anÂ amazing feeling. Iâ€™ve done portraits, unique commissions/installations, and am aboutÂ to begin work on two very large graffiti-styled backdrops for a private event. Iâ€™ve alsoÂ been developing an online shop for my more illustrative/cartoony work, which I hopeÂ to launch soon.
VW Â Any immediate plans for exhibits and/or the next series of work?
RC Â I just participated in group shows at Poem88 & Pryor, and an event at Site95 inÂ Brooklyn, NY. Iâ€™m currently working on a new body of work which Iâ€™ll be posting onÂ my website and blog soon. Iâ€™m looking to expand showing opportunities locally andÂ beyond!
You can view Ryan Coleman’s work online at his website, follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.